Experienced broker finds new career niche

April 29, 2011
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The nation’s worst recession in more than 70 years doesn’t necessarily qualify as the best time to go solo, but that sad economic condition didn’t stop veteran commercial real estate broker Randy Bronkema.

Bronkema opened his Independence Realty-Commercial office on Lafayette Avenue in Grand Rapids last July, a time when banks were foreclosing on property owners and property owners were filing for bankruptcy protections. But he had spent a lot of years and had done a lot of deals in the commercial end before he hung out his shingle last summer.

His brokerage career got started, however, with an 18-month stint in the residential market at Kellogg and Associates.

“It was a 60-person firm that had two offices. Actually, the first year I was in the business, I was the top agent in the entire company. I decided shortly after that to go into commercial real estate,” he said.

Bronkema’s first commercial deal was for the father of a former roommate, who used Bronkema’s services to buy an industrial property. Following that transaction, he went to Square Real Estate and his career change was officially under way.

Along the way, Bronkema worked with Stan Wisinski for 17 years and was a partner in Grubb & Ellis/Paramount Commerce, now Colliers International, for another 11 years.

“I wanted to offer my services more personally and in direct contact with a client and have fewer layers of, I’ll say, bureaucracy. I wanted to offer a more creative, responsive and quick-acting small company with large capabilities,” he said as to why he went out on his own.

Bronkema said he really didn’t think too long about making the change after working in the field for as long as he has. On top of that, commercial brokers are really independent contractors who pay their own expenses, so Bronkema thought he might as well become completely independent.

“When you’re in the midst of a recession, it’s not always the best time to start a new business,” he said. “But I was starting a new business because I’ve been in the business for many years as an independent contractor. So even though I worked for some of the larger companies, in essence I already was my own business. I brought in all my own business, all my own listings and all my own clients, so it wasn’t that big of a step.”

But being with a large commercial firm has some advantages that a solo practitioner doesn’t, such as a mass of available data and a national network for leads.

“Bigger is not always better in this world. Lots of types of companies are getting bigger, but that always doesn’t mean better in my mind,” he said.

Business has been good for Bronkema since he began his firm. Last month, he helped find a location for a new manufacturer in the region. “That was very exciting,” he said, adding that he couldn’t reveal the name of the company because the firm wants to do that on its own.

“It’s a very large German company that a past client of mine forged a partnership with and they opened a facility,” he said.

Bronkema also found office space for a new law firm. Andy Rodenhouse and Jessica Kuiper are recent Cooley Law School graduates who went into practice together.

“As you know, not a lot of law firms are hiring and not a lot of jobs are available. So they decided to start their own firm, and I leased them their office space,” he said.

Another deal Bronkema recently brokered involved a firm that sells and distributes medical equipment to providers. The company expanded its sales territory and needed more space to handle the additional equipment it will carry. The firm bought the building and now has Bronkema leasing its previous location.

Bronkema said he also is working with a large food company that is locating here and a construction firm.

“I’m also representing four different banks on properties they’ve foreclosed in West Michigan. So I’m assisting them with selling those,” he said, adding that Tim House serves as his assistant.

So far, regardless of the recession, starting Independence Realty-Commercial has been a good move for Bronkema.

“The one thing I can do is be flexible and tailor my services to exactly what the client wants,” he said.

“You know, I have made very deep relationships here in West Michigan over 25 years. I’ve been re-contacting those and I’ve actually been very busy. I’ve had some pretty good success, and I’ve found that even with a very small firm, clients still want me to help them.”

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